Nationals Arm Race

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Did Chapman really throw a ball 105mph?

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Chapman is amazing. Photo via wiki/flickr SD Dirk

Chapman is amazing. Photo via wiki/flickr SD Dirk

(Editor’s Note: Originally published on 9/2/2010, edited several times since, including links to the 105.1 pitch later in 2010 and him hitting 105.1 again in 2016).

If you believe twitter and these published reports, Cincinnati’s Cuban prospect Aroldis Chapman “sat” at 103 and hit 105mph in his final AAA appearance before getting called up for the 9/1/2010 roster expansion.  I had a hard time believing it; the picture in the Yahoo looks doctored frankly, and stadium guns are notoriously “jacked up” to get the crowds excited and to spark interest in hard throwers.

There are two kinds of radar guns used by stadiums and scouts today.  A “fast” gun measures the speed of the pitch as it leaves the hand of the hurler while a “slow” gun measures its speed by the time the pitch crosses the plate.  For obvious reasons you’ll take the “fast” reading if you’re trying to hype the player, and you take the “slow” reading if you’re trying to evaluate the pitcher.  Oh, and you take readings over and again, compare first inning to last inning, etc.  My thoughts were that Chapman was on a fast gun that was over-exaggerated to add a couple MPHs (case in point; Jordan Zimmermann‘s radar readings on the telecast two nights ago put him at 96mph when his pitch f/x maximum was 94).

Now, that being said, check out the Pitch F/X data from Chapman’s first appearance in the majors on 8/31/2010, and his second appearance on 9/1/10. In his major league debut he threw 6 fastballs with an average of 100.65 and a max of 102.7mph.  This in and among itself would have been amazing and would have tied the fastest ever recorded pitch f/x data (that of Joel Zumaya hitting 102.7 in a game in June 2009)

However, look at the data from 9/1/10. He threw 7 fastballs that AVERAGED 102.11 mph with a peak of 103.9mph.  103.9!!  Now, I know there’s a ton of links out there talking about what the fastest ever reported pitch is on record (see links here or here at HardBalltimes or this google cache’d document as well as wikipedia or Guinness Book of World records links).  Nolan Ryan‘s “record” of 100.9mph has stood as some sort of altar to the speed ratings for years and years.  You’ll see radar gun readings as evidence that various players have thrown the ball 102, 104, whatever.  Steve Dalkowski and Bob Feller being “recorded” using primitive measures in the 107 or 110 range.   Walter Johnson was known for his power in the early part of the century; his fastball was estimated to be in the upper 90s.  Its a shame that modern technology didn’t exist back then.

(Side Note: if you’ve never heard of Dalkowski … his wikipedia page is a pretty good read).

Other rumors and records for fast pitches suffer from perhaps hype and estimates, not science.  Zumaya reportedly hit 104.8 in the first game of the 2006 ALCS, but it was on the stadium gun, not Pitch F/X.  Ryan and Goose Gossage both reportedly hit 103mph in the 1978 All-Star game.  Stephen Strasburg reportedly could hit 102 as an amateur but rarely goes about 97 post-arm injury.  Justin Verlander may not have the triple-digit records but amazingly maintains his upper-90s throughout games, often hitting 100mph in his last inning of work.

I think Chapman’s speed last night is the new standard.  And a pretty amazing accomplishment.

(Editors notes: Chapman set a new MLB record on 9/24/10, after this article’s initial posting, throwing a documented 105.1mph.  He also threw a ball at 104.6 on 7/28/14.  Not quite as fast as his best ever … which I’m guessing even Chapman doesn’t think he’ll ever beat, since he got the reading tattooed on his wrist.  Then on 7/19/16,  years after his first record, he tied it again, throwing another ball 105.1.  Here’s the StatCast link for this pitch.

Post-posting related link: BA’s J.J. Cooper posted this Q&A session on 4/28/15 talking about Chapman and 101+ MPH pitches.

Jan 2017: Boston pitching prospect Michael Kopech, who is renowned his velocity, hit 110 MPH during a “max velocity” workout early in spring training.  Holy mackerel!  How long before this kid gets to the majors and has a gun on him??

May 2018: we may have a new gold standard; Jordan Hicks threw a reported 105.1 MPH fastball, but Pitch FX shows it at 106.1.  Wow.  I guess it was just a matter of time before someone broke Chapman’s record.

Written by Todd Boss

September 2nd, 2010 at 12:21 pm

One Response to 'Did Chapman really throw a ball 105mph?'

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  1. What’s amazing to me is the baseball commentators, many of whom played big leagues, never discuss the 2 types of radar guns used. Major league scouts use the “stacker” gun, which provides slower readings than the much cheaper “juggs” gun. We had both of them last year, the differences are about 2-3 mph.

    I have no idea what TV and the parks use, but I’m guessing the Juggs.

    Dalkowski is a great story. He played in the Orioles minors and was caught by Cal Ripken Senior one year. Cal said he had the best fastball he ever saw and was impossible to catch. He had a severe drinking problem and eventually was overcome by dimentia as I recall.

    Gary Boss

    2 Sep 10 at 8:26 pm

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